How it started
I’ve got an invitation from Steven Lee of KLPA at the end of April 2014, to participate at the Mt. Rokko International Photo Festival Portfolio Review in Kobe, Japan. My feeling at that time was mixed. I was speechless, excited and looking forward to being reviewed. I started to do some research about the event from Steven’s blog explorenation.net and so on. This is the first time that my works will be reviewed by International / established photographers, artists, photo editors and curators from around the world. I’m very honoured for the invitation that I received. From that I started to prepare my works accordingly and put lots of effort on them.
Preparing the Project
Since I’m in the Exposure+ Photo Mentoring Program run by KLPA, I already have one project (Distance) which needed to be finished during the 3 month programme. I also brought another personal project (Bakul Boy). I’ve started the Bakul Boy project since early 2014. It was stressful but yet energetic and excited for me to do both works at the same time and preparing the final outcomes. With a lots of help, encouragement and support from my mentor (The Exposure+ Programme), friends and my most understanding family, finally I’ve was ready.
I have prepared everything accordingly such as all the prints, postcards, name cards, hand outs including dummy photobooks for my both projects. Unfortunately a few days before departing for Japan, I got into an accident and injured my knee. With limited time, I have to settle everything despite being in pain. But for me, the excitement to present my works in Japan, the pain never bothered me. On 29th August 2014, with a little help from my ‘tongkat’, together with Steven, Ailsa, Paik Yin and Nadia, we finally arrived at the Tanto Tempo Gallery, Kobe. The venue for the Mt. Rokko International Portfolio Review was held at the YMCA, Mt. Rokko, Kobe, Japan.
The ‘R’ Day
The portfolio reviews for this event was held over 2 days on the 29th and 30th August. I was reviewed by 7 reviewers. The reviewers were Yosuke Fujiki, Naoko Ohta, Natalie Matutschovsky, Tsuyoshi Ito, Yumi Gato, Takeki Sugiyama and one bonus reviewer; Fabrice Wagner. I’ve brought two of my working projects, Distance and Bakul Boy.
Distance is a project that I’ve done with the Exposure+3 Programme. The documentary set is presented as diptychs in one print. This project is about two children’s moments in their daily lives. I tried my best to be close as possible as I could, to capture at the same moments in the day, in order to convey their differences. I want to visually highlight how much education is important to a child. The idea of this project is to pose a question rather an answer.
My second documentary project is called Bakul Boy. Bakul Boy is about a little boy named Salmankan from Semporna, Sabah in Malaysia. This little boy followed his family to come to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to search a better life. He worked two jobs daily, the first selling plastic bags (bakul) and the other pushing wooden trolleys between the fish sellers and customers at the wet Filipino Wet Market, in Kota Kinabalu. He has to worked to achieve an education, just to help his family survive.
For these two projects, I managed to complete the photobook dummies.
At the portfolio review, we only have 20 minutes to introduce ourselves, giving an introduction on our projects and network. As for me, the first 20 minute session seems like a short time. I was a bit nervous and have not prepared much, and things messed up a little, but then I’ve made it through anyway.
So for the next session, I planned everything accordingly. Firstly, I gave out my name card, giving a short introduction about myself and then explain and presented both projects. I’ve showed the reviewers my large prints and the photobook dummies. I think we need to plan it well because we only have 20 minutes to present and at the same time we mustr receive feedback as much as possible. If we don’t plan or do it well, then we might feel that 20 minutes is not enough. Time is Precious.
Summary from the Reviewers
DISTANCE – A lot of questions were asked about this photo series. The questions needed to be answered by me. An example of a question being asked was if I could spend more time on the subjects. For every diptych, some of the reviewers asked if may be possible to add a quote from the children themselves. As this series is in colour, the calibration for all the images must be corrected especially the skin tones of the subjects. The sequencing can be change a bit and the images reduced, – “Less is More”. One of the reviewers have also said that my photobook dummies are done in a creative and interactive way.
BAKUL BOY – Most of the reviewers gave compliments and many good comments. They liked it as a photobook rather large prints. This is because the large prints are limited to 20 images only for each project. The prints can’t really show the whole story. I was advised to continue this project, making a series or volumes. Conducting proper interviews with the subjects, if possible, making a video recording too. In the future, I must also have the subject’s personal quotes. Spending more times with them, or make it a long-term project. I also need to be more careful on editing and curating the photos. As for the photobook dummies, most of the reviewers gave a comment that the cover designs are great, but some of the images are repeated and need to be removed if possible. A few of the important images needed to be enlarged up to create more impact.
The Bakul Boy project is the more popular series from the two. Each project is a different story and genre. Even if they are both documentary projects the approaches are different. For each project, intimacy is the key of the success and that intimacy requires time. The skin tone calibration need to be done correctly for the colour series. From my personal observations, my colleagues from Japan are well prepared with their prints and textured paper (paper that we do not have in our country) and some photographers were equipped with white gloves to handle their prints. This is a good example of we need for the next portfolio review.
Even with different languages we are all connected by photography and the arts. Our works speaks for themselves.
As this is my first time being reviewed Internationally, it was a good experience and a learning process for me.
I would like to express my gratitude to Takeki Sugiyama for the invitation to Mt. Rokko International Portfolio Review. Also a big thanks to Steven, Erna and the Exposure+3 mentors for this opportunity. Thanks to all my friends and families for their endless support.
P.S : for those who are into spicy food,…please bring your own hot sauce – ‘sambal ikan bilis’
~ Syefry Moniz, 18 September, Kuala Lumpur
There are so many things to be said about the experience of attending the Mt Rokko Portfolio Review festival so I’m going to attempt a ramble the most significant aspects for me.
From the very beginning, we (the Malaysian *cough*slash*Australian*cough* posse), were treated like the most royal of guests. We may have let the whole team down because our un-showered bodies resembled nothing of royalty, but of course there was no mention of this. Even if people were surprised to find that there were in fact no dead animals in our bags or on our bodies, we (and our bags) were just welcomed with open arms and smiles. This was the first of consistent experiences of the Mt Rokko team’s astounding politeness and hospitality.
We really were very blessed to have been able to attend this festival. I think pre-conceived assumption was that we, as international guests, had a lot that we would bring to the table. But, for me personally, I feel that I had a lot less to bring, and instead had a great deal that I took away. (And no, I’m not talking about the literal taking of amazing food or drinks. Although, as one exception to the culinary amazingness, if you buy the bottled green tea from the local convenience store, you may as well save yourself 70c, and the walk, and instead toss back the contents of the nearest ashtray).
The biggest realisation that constantly hit me was that there is just so much care and intention and pride invested in Japanese photography (or Japanese ANYTHING, for that matter), and that I have so much to learn in this regard. The ironic thing that I realised about my own art throughout this festival is that, I really don’t often treat any of it “like a work of art.” My prints and presentation really did resemble an eight year old’s artwork folder compared to the standard upheld by the Japanese attending photographers.
The Japanese folios were of gallery quality, and no expense was spared in the treatment or presentation of their photography. My favourite question from a reviewer, Didier Brousse, was “Is this how you usually print your works?” To which I answered a confident, “No, no, nooo…” (and in my head “… … … Um, yes? Shit! HIDE!)” What I was left reflecting on throughout this repeated exposure to japanese works was that, in the western screen-based world, we become so consumed with screen-based viewings, so often don’t connect a great deal with print – whether that be loose prints or book making – as a result. And in screen-worlds, we invest so much time, creativity, energy and planning in the execution of our photography, yet spend very little energy reflecting that in the final outcome of the work. And, to me, that really feels like the print version nestled proudly in your hands. (Don’t even get me started on the LIFE-CHANGING AMAZINGNESS OF MAKING A PHOTO BOOK, in particular. Experience this to know this, I can’t recommend that enough. Even in the initial dummy stages, for me, it is currently the most profound and moving experience. PERIOD).
Pic by Akimichi Chimura
So for this reason, the open-portfolio afternoon where we all laid out our works and then walked around to peruse others, was the most significant event of the festival to drum home this message to me. At one stage I even panicked that my little yet heavy fingers may crease the tissue paper laying between one photographer’s prints. This is how I want to feel about my own photos, that I have sweated over and agonised over and poured so much of myself into. This is how we all, as photographers, should honour and value our own work.
The other giant benefit of the open portfolio session was being able to get somewhat of a mini snapshot of contemporary Japanese photography, in one hit. Walking around the room, I saw just how central family and history (including repeated references to traumatic historical events) was to most of these works. And how delicate each and every one of these works were. They all had such great contemplation and quietness and depth about them. And such beauty as a result. Further, as english is the second language of all the photographers, little words were used to communicate the intention/concepts behind the works; but little words were needed, which just made me realise the strength of the execution of ideas/concepts in their photography.
Pic by Akimichi Chimura
Actually, I say they were all delicate, but I lie. They weren’t. There were some that were equally amazing for a different reason: because they were so, freaking, in-your-face confronting. Or entertaining. And to be honest, these works are the ones that I personally remember significantly, not for their asthetic appeal, but because the content of those works shook me the most.
Although it’s a given, it needs to be said – the actual portfolio reviews themselves were incredibly beneficial. I was reviewed by Naoko Ohta, Didier Brousse, Takeki Suigyama, Yoichi Nagata, Tuyoshi Ito, and Paula Kupfer. Every reviewer was very competent and knowledgable, and all had very different things to offer, including constructive criticism, positive feedback, suggestions for where-to-from-here, suggestions for presentation format, suggestions for sequencing or editing (note: bring LOOSE prints to reviews!
No fixed-photo folders!), and most importantly, questions that I hadn’t thought of or answered for myself yet. And although they all had very different and sometimes opposing things to say which did in parts leave me confused and overwhelmed, this to me was not indicative of any error of the reviewers, but rather indicative of just how far I’ve personally got to go in terms of being 100% sure of why I’m doing what I’m doing, and exactly how I want to do that, so I can then pick and choose exactly what feedback fits with my direction and where/who exactly I want to direct my photos to.
I’m talking too much. Let me cram in some parting words. The photographers and photography was incredibly giving and amazing. (AH-MAAA-ZING). Japanese people are ALL FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (mass generalisation, but I’m running with it), and may be deceptively quiet but seriously know how to drink an Aussie under the table. The festival had a real quaintness and naivete to it that makes it feel very precious. Takeki Suigyama (coordinator master #1) was a STAR at spreading love and energy throughout the place and dictating the vibe of the festival (including, but not limited to, frequent episodes of dance-shout-clap-chanting). Mariko Yamada (coordinator master #2) was often spotted running around behind the scenes instead of in the spotlight, but was the equal driving force behind the festival. (And with the sweetest smile in all of Japan).
The facilities were wonderful. (*Ahem* … first public bath experience. BOO-YAH)! The location is to die for. If I spent months on the YMCA grounds alone, I would be a very happy lady. And last but definitely not least, my favourite memory: the “sheet workshop” run by Daiki Usui. Literally, how to place one sheet on your bed, lie on that sheet, and then place a second sheet above you. “Like a sheet sandwich.”
Like I said, care and pride in EVERYTHING.
~ Ailsa, Perth 18 September, 2014
The circus is back in town. Every year, the Santus Circus, Le Cirque de France comes to a local park near where I live and every year, I try to photograph the ticket booth, with all it’s imagery and lights, harking back to old times. I failed a couple of years ago, as I was a little too late in the evening, and the darkness had fallen, and the exposure wasn’t perfect. Yesterday, i made it a point to get there at dusk, about 30 minutes before the sun set. I think I nailed the exposure this time, with the little Ricoh GR.
In my second year attending the review sessions as a reviewer, I have developed a greater sense of appreciation for contemporary Japanese photography, especially within the context of aesthetics, form and content where I found to be very much related to the ‘being’ of the photographer and is intertwined with a personal discovery and journey of the artist, which is rather unique to this nation. Reviews are a great way to discover the ‘pulse’ of what is being photographed at any one time, and having an open mind approach is best, for the genres presented is as varied as the characters of the photographers.
The photography from 15 photographers I reviewed over two days had studies of nature, family, landscapes, objects, street scenes, street photography, architectural images, creative portraits and some ‘road trip’ style photography. The deep respect amongst the Japanese to Nature, family and the home has been the source of many of the themes I continue to see.
Of the photographers I have reviewed this year, the works had better visual narratives, were of high standards and creativity compared to 2013. As expected, the standards of presentations was exemplary, with well printed photographs and good selection of media. I understand that the selection process of the photographers was rigorous and I applaud the organisers in maintaining a standard year to year.
With the review sessions still fresh in my mind, I highlight several photographers whom I have had the opportunity of reviewing, whose works stood out, and made a lasting impression in my mind. This is not to say the others weren’t significant or memorable, however, I would like to share some of the works that have made me reflect a little, surprised me, or stood out photographically as being unique, to my readers.
Susumu Okada – White Traces
Susumu is an accomplished photographer, and he presented his White Traces in perfectly printed large sized exhibition quality inkjet prints. The size of the prints, I think were at least 40 x 50cm, hits you with so much detail and texture that is is difficult to neglect. His series White Traces are streetscapes photographed around Tokyo of isolated spots, flyover pillars, fences, backyards, carparks where the main point of focus are the tiny round white and grey marks left on the hard surfaces by kids hitting baseballs against them, countless times. The images are truly unique and has many dimensions of narrative; reflecting the passage of time, a city neglected, the lack of open spaces, inner city life, etc. One thing, not a single kid is shown playing the game. Tokyo looks deserted, dull and grey.
All images © Susumu Okada
Mina Daimon – Miniature Garden series (Hakoniwa , A world within a BENTO)
What would we do without the bento? The simple bento box is uniquely Japanese. So, Mina Daimon, a graduate in Landscape Architecture Science presented an amazing series of perfectly filled lunch boxes, which she neatly arranged items of food she painstakingly cooked, in various combinations over a period of months, and photographed them. Her idea for this series comes from the fact that she sees the bento as miniature gardens, tendered to perfection, in a variety of ways in tastes and design, all for the enjoyment of one special person, her husband. A simple idea takes on a whole new meaning, in this series about food, order, dedication and love.
© All images Mina Daimon
Here’s what she says about this series.
I do a simulation in my head before sleeping.
First, packing rice in the first layer of the lunch box.
Then sprinkling sesame seeds on the rice it and garnishing with pickles in the corner.
Taking out the ingredients which had been prepared the night before,and adding the final touches to each dish.
Boiling leaves in plentiful water for marinating.
Cutting everything into the appropriate sizes and filling to fill the second layer of the box.
Hakoniwa (the Miniature Garden) = A world within a BENTO.
I go to work with “my very own garden” hidden in my bag.
It disappears quickly, but brings me happiness through sudden bento-inspirations at work.
Everyone sees their own landscape.
Minoru Hotsuki – Persona
Minoru Hotsuki hails form Tokyo and again, is an accomplished print maker and photographer. His series of slightly otherworldly portraits, titled Persona is bizarre yet mesmerising. Taking a leaf from ancient Japanese artists, he photographs his friends in several poses, profile and straight-on, and recomposes the forward looking eye into the profile image. Digital trickery aside, this conceptual portraitist has achieved a look in his series mimicking the cubist painters, and ancient artists from the middle-east, into what is the importance of the all seeing and knowing eye, the window to one’s soul. At first glance, the portraits seem normal, perhaps a slight discomfort faces the viewer, until the technique is disclosed, the notoriety of the work shines through.
© All images Minoru Hotsuki
Hiro Tanaka – Dew Dew Dew Its
Hiro Tanaka is a great guy. I would say he is an opportunist photographer. He followed a band across America for months on end, backstage, frontstage, slept in caravans and RVs, city to city, town to town. Attended raves and parties, met countless of peoples, ate fast food, and just photographed everything, from dogs to kids, to strange plants, drunk friends, landscapes, I mean, everything. He showed me his publication called Dew, Dew, Dew, Its (which I still can’t remember what the meaning is) and I laughed. Not because the pictures are funny, although some of them definitely are, but because the photographs captured, by this ‘foreigner’ in the Land of Opportunity is so ‘in your face’ and exposes all the idiosyncrasies of a nation so diverse as is ‘road America’ in all it’s garishness and colour, that only a roadie like Hiro would have been able to capture, living amongst the very people he relied upon for his travel and lifestyle. It reminded me of Martin Parr’s more astutely photographed Think of England series. Refreshing.
All images © Hiro Tanaka
Shinji Ichikawa – Distance
Rarely have I seen ‘open spaces’ in landscapes so well photographed in Shinji Ichikawa’s project Distance. His images are tightly composed and well observed and in some pictures, he intentionally blacked out the sky or background, creating a false negative space which emphasizes the foreground, making the image surrealistic.
All images © Shinji Ichikawa
Kyoko Yamamoto – Dark series
Kyoko (or Yama as she is known) comes across as a quiet and unassuming photographer, but she has mastered the fine-art aspects of colour, composition and subject matter to high degree of perfection. I did not review her work, but she caught up with me at breakfast on the last day, and offered to show me ‘dark’ series. Wow, just blew me away!
© Kyoko Yamamoto
This series comprises of streetscapes, objects and architectural studies processed to a stop or two from total darkness, and offers a nocturnal dreamlike atmosphere punctured by luminous glimmers and shards of light. Totally moody and accomplished work. www.mwp.xii.jp
For many photographers, portfolio reviews can be a daunting task. What do you show? How do you show? What do you ask? Do you take notes? What if the work is incomplete? What about the statement? I present some suggestions for photographers attending reviews. Bring only the important series from your recent photography, it can be work in progress or recently completed. Limit them to about 10 to 15 prints per series and a maximum of 2 series, since there will not be sufficient time to view more than about two projects. I would prefer to look through loose prints than prints inserted into presentation folders, since we can re-sequence or pull out inappropriate images on the desk as we discuss the work. Quite often, photographers bring too many photographs from a project, which in actual fact may contain 2 or even 3 series. Editing of the project is really important, as it shows that you are focussed and the project idea is tight and concise. If your statement is too broad, then your images tend to be the same. ~SL
Photo © Naohiko Tokuhira
When Steven invited me to participate in the portfolio reviews at the Mt. Rokko International Photo Festival in Japan, I was beyond ecstatic. The idea of travelling to a different country and also getting my works reviewed by renowned individuals from the photographic field is a rare occurrence and something that I would not want to miss. And so that is how I found myself on a plane to the Land of the Rising Sun.
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kansai International Airport took approximately 6 hours. From the airport you would have to take a bus to Kobe, which is about 75 minutes away from the airport. The fare for the bus was 1,900 yen. One thing in Japan the transportation fares would cost you a bomb so it is best to be prepared. Our first destination in Kobe was to the Gallery Tanto Tempo to meet with its director, Mariko Yamada and its editor, Satsuki Kajikawa. The meeting was brief, as the actual ‘meet and greet’ session would only be held later in the evening. As we arrived during midday, we had ample time to explore the city and I took that chance to absorb as much of Kobe as I could. Everything was strange and fascinating and I felt like a character from Sofia Coppola’s movie ‘Lost In Translation’.
Hours later we finally got to meet the person responsible for the festival; Takeki Sugiyama along with the other invited guests. After a brief introduction and chitchatting, we were treated to a welcoming dinner with the rest of the people involved in the festival. Everyone was nice and excited just to be there but some of us were a little bit nervous to get our works reviewed. For me, it was a mixture of both. To be honest, I did not know what to expect nor did I have any expectations. However, I was keen to show my works and hear the opinions of others.
Mt. Rokko is approximately 30-45 minutes drive up from Kobe (depending on the traffic condition). You can either take a cab or a bus to go there but also be reminded that transportation in Japan is not cheap.
Nevertheless we arrived at the YMCA safe and sound. The portfolio reviews were held at the YMCA while the talks and slideshow were conducted at a nearby location. All of the photographers involved are accommodated at the YMCA, where breakfast and lunch were also served.
On the first day, they had a presentation for the ‘Two Mountains Photo Project’ where all of the photographers involved had to talk and share their works and experiences on the project. As I am also one of the 6 photographers involved in the project, I had to give an introduction on my work and shed some information on Mt. Kinabalu too. For someone who doesn’t like to present in front of the public, it was a nerve-wrecking experience. But I was thankful to be given the opportunity to do so anyhow. It was indeed a learning experience.
Finally it was time to get our portfolio reviewed. My first reviewer was Michael Itkoff from Daylight Magazine (US) and the rest were (in following order) -
Yumi Goto from the Reminders Photography Stronghold.
Yoichi Nagata from Fraction Magazine Tokyo.
Paula Kupfer from Aperture Foundation.
Taj Forer from Daylight Magazine.
Fabrice Wagner from Le Calliou Bleu
I brought two of my works to be reviewed; one from the Between Two Mysteries series and the other one was my self-published photobook, ‘Is This The [n]?’. It was refreshing to hear the thoughts and opinions of others on my works. They gave positive feedback on my works plus a few suggestions on how to improve further. In summary, what I can deduce from the reviewing session was: -
I need to better explain my works to people.
I need to get out from my comfort zone more and perhaps try to find different subjects to work on (other than my usual subject matter).
Other than that, it was also interesting to be asked (a few times), if I shoot in digital or analog. I usually like to leave it up to the viewers’ imagination because personally, I don’t think it matters. In addition the review sessions, they were also exhibitions and talks in conjunction with the photo festival. One of the guest speakers was Sohrab Hura, who is an amazing photographer whose works I look up to.
The review sessions ended after two days and we were brought to the beautiful Mt. Rokko Country Home for an outdoor slideshow presentation a farewell supper at a nearby restaurant.
To sum it up, the portfolio review was an enriching and refreshing experience for me. I believe that it is necessary for any artists or photographers to go for reviews as this would help us to build and develop our skills, It also could shed more light and a better understanding for our own works. And for that, I owe my thanks and gratitude for the opportunity to do so at the Mt. Rokko International Photo Festival.
~ Nadia Mahfix, Kuala Lumpur 09 September, 2014